According to the BBC, a Lagos High Court in Nigeria ruled that labels should be applied to both Coca-Cola products because they pose a health risk to consumers. Here’s exactly where the issue arises: The sodas contain high levels of benzoic acid and yellow “sunset” coloring additives that may be harmful when mixed with vitamin C, CNN reports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirms this, noting that the two can form a carcinogen called benzene when combined.
The two drinks were first found problematic nine years ago, when a local businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his company tried to export the drinks to the United Kingdom. Health authorities in the U.K. would not let him sell the products because they exceeded the limit for benzoic acid. Coca-Cola and soda water, however, were not denied.
The Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), which packages the drinks Adebo tried to export, said in their defense that the products were meant for local distribution and consumption, not for export. This spurred anger in many Nigerians as they questioned why food and drink standards were lower in Nigeria than in the U.K.
In last month’s ruling, National Agency For Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was fined two million naira ($6,350) for failing to protect Nigerians against harmful consumption of the sodas, and Justice Oyebanji said the following:
“The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria bottling company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of color or creed.”
In an interview with the BBC, Adebo agreed, saying, “We shouldn’t have a product that is considered substandard in Europe.”
NBC is appealing the court ruling, so no labels have been placed on soda cans or bottles yet. According to the BBC, the NBC said levels of benzoic acid in its Sprite and Fanta are “well within the levels approved” by the national regulator and the international food standards body.
In a statement to CNN, Coca-Cola’s VP for Public Affairs and Communications, Eurasia and Africa, Hamish Banks, said there is no issue with the safety of either drinks. “The levels of all ingredients in these products, including benzoates and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), are well within the conservative guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius and the Nigeria Industrial Standards.”